Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Optimal !

So I'm playing Final Fantasy 1 on the Final Fantasy 1 & 2 : Dawn of Souls cartridge for GameBoy Advance, and actually enjoying it. I have generally steered away from these old school RPGs lately, having had my fill of them back in the day, and now prefering the action-adventures more anyway.

I had played the NES version of this game a little bit back in the day but had grown either bored or frustrated with it, and never got far into it. This GBA version seems to be sped up, however, with the characters and the menus moving faster then I remember.

What amazed me about the game was found under the "Equip" section. It was a command called "Optimal" which automatically selects the best armor and weapons for the character from the party's inventory. No more in-game testing or vague guesswork to see if the broadsword is better than the rapier, if the leather cap is better than the iron helmet.

I always hated that part. Usually, the natural progression through an RPG meant that the weapon you found in level 2 of the dungeon is better than the one you found on level 1. But over the years, so many games put so many weapons in so many places that the saturation often led me to simply find a weapon I like and stick with it as much as possible.

Of course, different weapons and armor exist for different character skills, classes, and even different situations such as weapons designed to hurt the undead. So far, though, in this game, I've only picked up better stuff in each town. The "Optimal" button has come in handy in these situations, immediately equipping the best stuff on each character and saving me a few minutes of playing paperdoll with each one.

I don't know if this is the first RPG to have an "Optimal" button, but I damn sure like it. Why didn't they think of this years ago? I can think of about a few hundred RPGs that could have used such a feature. Bard's Tale, Im talking to you.

The Hunt

I sometimes get just as wrapped up in buying new games as I do playing them. This all stems back to my first console, the Odyssey 2. I was still a sophomore in high school at the time, not working yet, so every game I could get for that system was an event. Combine my economic difficulties with the fact that the Odyssey 2 had a very limited library of games that seemed to trickle their way to the marketplace, and you can see just how this "event" mentality developed with me.

It carried over to my first computer, the Commodore VIC 20, even though I was working. Working meant having a car, so most of my paycheck went into that. Well, that plus beer and weed. Still, I managed to budget a release or two whenever I could, and it was still an event.

What was different, however, with the VIC 20 was that there were plenty of games for it, so I now had to choose carefully which games would give me the most bang for the buck. Another new factor also emerged early on. I lived in a small rural Ohio town (Galion), with only a few places selling software at all. Nearby was what I considered at the time to be a city (Mansfield), which did offer more choices.

So the hunt was on - searching department stores, toy stores, even office supply stores for software for my VIC 20. One of my greatest victories of those hunts was a copy of Crush, Crumble, and Chomp at a declining department store named Swallen's, in a very out-of-the-way display case which was in such disarry that one might think they were at a flea market.

It was hard to do any research back then - all we had were a few magazines covering the hobby to rely on for game reviews and advertisements. Often the decision on whether or not to buy a game came only after reading the back of its box.

This all carried over to my next game machine, the Commodore 64. I became aware at this time that the nearest real city, Columbus, had an unprecedented amount of places where I could get games for it, and I mounted a few expeditions to Columbus solely to get such treasures. I returned from one such expedition with Neutral Zone, Sword of Kadash, and Imperium Galactum, games I had never seen on the shelves anywhere in Galion or Mansfield.

When I finally moved to Columbus in late 1986, the city opened up to me, and within six months I knew every place selling Commodore 64 software and did "rounds" to check for new releases as well as sales on older titles I wanted. My budget for games was better, but not huge, so each purchase still had to be carefully considered, and was still an event for me.

The nineties brought me greater economic freedom, but the hunt was really on now. I had started to build a retrogame collection - acquiring games from the 70's and early 80s at flea markets and thrift stores. All of this being before the birth of eBay and the retrogame craze that we have now - I was picking up old stuff almost every week for many years, building up my own collection. If I had known that eBay was coming, I would have bought a lot more than what I needed for my personal collection, stored it away, and been very rich today. Ah, hindsight.

This kept the spirit of the hunt alive for me, both with the retro stuff and the modern stuff of the 1990s. In the late 1990s, though, it all ended when I logged into Ultima Online and began to care less and less about building a retro collection and keeping up with the consoles at the time. I had found what I called at the time "the last videogame I'll ever need".

When I emerged from my UO haze (for the most part), I found that there were plenty of great games I had missed. So the hunt began anew. I narrowed my focus to only the best of what was available - games I could get into as my time available for gaming diminished, and/or games I wanted to add to certain existing libraries (GameBoy Advance, Vectrex, etc.)

I still feel that old thrill, that rush, when I find the game I want on a store shelf and buy it, or when I track it down on the internet and order it. Like a little kid, I can't wait to get it home and begin playing it. I may be middle-aged, but I'll never grow up entirely.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Objection ! It's Too Early !

In my section to the right about what games I'm playing, you'll see that I WAS scrambling to finish Phoenix Wright : Ace Attorney before the sequel came out. I was expecting it in March, which was the estimate given to me by an EB/Gamestop employee awhile back. I stopped by an EB today and there it was. It's out early, and The Legend of Zelda : Phantom Hourglass has been pushed back to summer.

I didn't pick it up yet, though. I feel guilty about getting it before finishing the first installment. In the first one, I'm in what I think is the last day of trial for the last case, and still very stuck.

On the other hand, the first one was so rare for so long after its release that I am afraid the same will happen to the sequel, and by the time I am ready to play it, it will be only available on eBay for twice the retail price. I got lucky on the first one - I found it for 17 dollars at a local MediaPlay store when the chain went down at the end of 2005. It was the last copy they had, too.

I think I'll pick it up on Friday, but not play it until I've finished the first one. Yeah, that will do. Maybe seeing the box on my shelf will spur me on to finish that last case on the first one. Oh, the torment. These games are really great.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I Adore My 64

There's that old question people ask for some reason "If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have three albums to listen to, which ones would they be?". People who know me and know that I have been a videogamer most of my life ask the very similar question "If you could only have one videogame system, which one would it be?" It always blows them away when I immediately answer "My Commodore 64".

From 1985 well into the early 1990s it was my game machine of choice. I recently was able to make space in my home "office room" for another desk at which, sitting behind me right now, is my Commodore 64 and two shelves full of games.

That game library represents all I'll ever need in gaming : an endless array of dungeon crawlers, a plethora of fantastic arcade games, a cornucopia of strategy challenges, and an eclectic mix of bizarre titles that defy categorization.

Last year when I decided to stop collecting games and eBay the vast majority of my retrogame collection, I drew the line at my Commodore 64 library. And now that there is space in my apartment for the C64, I've rediscovered the joys of that era. In addition, I've decided that it's time I began adding to it, and this week I won an auction on eBay for the game Realm of Impossibility, an action dungeon crawler that I am enjoying immensely.

Searching on eBay brought back a lot of memories of that era. There were a lot of games I wanted to buy back then, but didn't. Now, as time and availability permits, I can pick up where I left off. I really should get around to finishing some of those dungeon crawlers, though.

Looking for Marvel Comics?

I'm in the process of eBaying my Marvel Comics collection. I have huge runs of most Marvel Comics titles going back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. I'm selling them in lots of roughly fifty issues. This week I've got X-Men (not Uncanny, the spin-off that was just X-Men) , New Mutants, and Wolverine issues up for grabs. I'm selling these lots cheap - starting the bidding at $4.99 plus $9.10 shipping and handling anywhere in the U.S.

Also, a weird item - a large rubber ball made entirely of rubber bands:

Check out my auctions in the Links section to the right. Keep checking back for new auctions. I probably won't use my blog to hawk these auctions too much after this post, because that would be kind of pushy.

I Got A Free Game

My fiancee's co-worker gave her a new copy of Star Wars Battlefront II for the PC. Apparently she got it for her kid, but the kid had in reality wanted some other Star Wars game, and since it was opened she couldn't take it back, so she offered it to my fiancee' to give to me. I hope that run-on sentence didn't make you too dizzy.

At first I was reluctant. I don't enjoy PC games that much anymore, mostly due to the complexity of keyboard controls, but after a few days of my fiancee' asking me "Did you try it yet?" I finally loaded all 4 discs and gave it a try. The training mission was pretty easy to get into, so I started the campaign mode and have finished two missions. The space battle above Coruscant was as dizzying as that run-on sentence in the first paragraph.

I'm not too good at the game yet, but it is enjoyable. Plus it was free. I hope my fiancee's co-worker makes some more inaccurate purchases in the future. Maybe she'll get the kid a Wii when he actually wants a Playstation 3.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Milestones : Galaxian (not Galaga)

Space Invaders didn't do that much for me. Yes, it was cool and new, but like Pong, after a few games I was done with it for the most part. Maybe it was because it was black and white, maybe because the invaders were in nice neat rows, and maybe because they could end your life just by reaching the bottom of the screen.

It wasn't until my neighborhood bowling alley got Galaxian that I was hooked. The full color invaders, the bright screen with an actual starfield, and the dive-bombing of the aliens seemed to do the trick. My friends and I became regulars there for awhile, spending our weeks' worth of lunch money by Monday afternoon.

Galaxian took the spark of videogaming interest in me and expanded it into a flame. From then on, videogames became my primary hobby and pasttime. That time, those few weeks playing Galaxian at that bowling alley, opened the door to the great, Golden Age of Videogaming that went from 1980 through 1984. Every week it seemed that new games were arriving in my local arcade, or somewhere else in town, and I would always check them out.

Looking back, it seemed that I was already, in those early days, seeking out something - some play experience that was new and different. Galaxian wasn't just fun and challenging - it was just enough of a leap ahead of Space Invaders that it fired up my imagination about what future games might bring.

On a side note, whenever I mention Galaxian to someone they mention Galaga, which came later. I always have to explain to them this whole story. Yes, Galaga was a better game, but by the time it came out I had moved on to other game ideas and concepts. I never really got into Galaga, and it gets tiresome to always hear "Don't you mean Galaga?". I wish they would have named Galaga something different.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Byers Auto Commercial Parody

I made another movie today. It'll probably only be funny to those who live in central Ohio and watch more that five minutes of television a day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Milestones : Pong

In this new series I call Milestones, I write about the games that I encountered through the years that changed my perception of gaming, that awed me with gameplay or graphics, or otherwise captivated me at the time. It all began with Pong.

When both parents are working parents, sometimes Dad gets stuck with providing dinner for the kids. It's often a good thing, because Dad tends to choose easier options such as going to the local pizza parlor. Such was the case in the middle 1970s when Dad took myself and my older sister to Mike's Pizza in my small Ohio hometown and we noticed a strange new sight over in the corner by the pinball machine.

It was a small table with a television embedded into its surface. There were seats on either side of it, a quarter slot in the side, and it emitted an eerie green glow straight up toward the ceiling. The sounds coming from it were also otherworldly - beeps and bloops that my young ears had never received before.

My sister and I watched it for a few minutes before begging Dad for a quarter to try it out. We grasped the concept immediately, but took a few rounds to understand the paddle controls. Once we did we were off and running, playing Pong. Dad even looked in amazement at the device while we waited on our pizza.

Subsequent visits to the pizza place over the following months brought further contests of Pong, and it was a growing national fad. A home version of the game found its way into our home for Christmas, and it had a few variations of Pong on it. While its replay value, as such things are measured today, was extremely limited, it was nonetheless a milestone that started my imagination going on the great question of "What else can they do with these TV games?"

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

My Ultima X Odyssey Event Tribute Movie

I made this short film back in November of last year when I discovered a program on my computer called Windows Movie Maker. The introduction to the film should explain it clearly enough.

Games I Beat in 2006 :

As my life changed in 2006 so did my personal philosophy on gaming. No longer would I rush to the next new, big game as soon as it came out and abandon what I was playing before. I would seek out the games I liked and finish them before starting the next one. Thus was I able to complete many games in 2006:

  • Beyond Good and Evil - PS2
  • Paper Mario - The Thousand Year Door - Gamecube
  • Resident Evil 4 - Gamecube
  • Medal of Honor Frontline - PS2
  • King's Field - PS1 (I originally beat it in 1996)
  • King's Field 2 - PS1 (I played it in 1997 and failed to beat it, but did it this time)
  • King's Field - The Ancient City - PS2

Games I shamefully surrendered to in 2006:

  • Tramua Center - Under the Knife - DS (So cool, but TOO DAMN HARD!!!)
  • Phoenix Wright - Ace Attorney - DS (Stuck on the last case, will finish before sequel comes out)
  • The Warriors - XBox (Got frustrated on the spray painting contest level, traded it in)

And there are several other games I bought but haven't gotten into yet, such as Car Battler Joe for the GameBoy Advance, and of course The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess for the Wii, which my only excuse for not playing is that I cannot find a Wii console in a store and refuse to go the eBay route or to set up a camp and live outside a Toys-R-Us for a week.

My Current Setup :

To start this blog off, let me tell you what I currently have hooked up (other than this PC) and readily available for gaming goodness in my apartment:

  • Sony PS2
  • Microsoft XBox
  • Nintendo Gamecube with GameBoy Player
  • Nintendo DS
  • Nintendo GameBoy Advance SP, as well as many older GB models
  • Commodore 64 Computer (with a very large library of games)
  • Vectrex
  • Various handhelds such as those Coleco Tabletop Arcade games
In my closet I have an Odyssey 2 and a Commodore VIC 20 each with a good library of games, as well as some consoles from an Atari 2600 to a Nintendo 64, most of which with only a few games for them. I once had a huge retrogame collection but eBayed most of it in the last year.

Now you know a little more about where I'm coming from when I talk about what I'm playing.

Welcome !

Welcome to Middle - Aged Gamer, my journal of life as a 40 year old former videogame geek who can no longer even pretend to be hardcore.

I was there when Pong hit the scene, I was in the arcade playing Centipede while Journey and Loverboy were blaring on the jukebox, my first console was an Odyssey 2 and my first computer was a Commodore VIC 20, I spent the second half of the eighties slogging through RPGs on the Commodore 64, I spent the much of the nineties on the cusp of console greatness from the Turbografx 16 through the first Playstation, I logged into Ultima Online during its unbelievable early days, and played for seven years, also becoming a very active part of the online community that talks about the game.

Those days are behind me now - I can't get into MMORPGs at all since the shadow of Everquest and World of Warcraft made the genre about as dull as watching paint dry, but for some reason as popular as TV wrestling. I can't afford a massive new LCD or plasma TV, or an XBox 360, or a Playstation 3. I can afford a Nintendo Wii but like most people right now I can't find one. I've played first person shooters to death but still got all I need from that genre with Doom, I see no need for another turn-based RPG with hundreds of numbers and stats to watch over, and I don't want a driving game unless it's another Mario Kart.

What I do now - well, it's toned down and that's fine. I work for a living and have a wonderful fiancee' which takes up most of my time, but I still want to game - it's in my blood and always will be. So I try to have a game that interests me available, plus a nice-sized library of older games I can revisit at my leisure, and when the free time presents itself, I enjoy gaming. Not on the level of the elite hardcore that stand above us all with their state-of-the-art killer titles that they play online on their gargantuan TV sets while speaking into microphones to their teammates and opponents - just as an older player who still gets a thrill out of exploration, puzzle solving, and a little dash of action.

I suspect that as my generation has aged there are many like me out there - gamers who were once hardcore but now have not the time nor devotion they once had, but still like videogames enough to make the time for them when they can. They know what they like to play, they don't care how the guy at EB games looks at them when they buy it, and they like to wax nostalgic about the games of yesteryear.

That's what I intend to do with this blog - write about what I'm playing, about what's going on with the new stuff from an old timer's viewpoint, and about anything else that interests me in relation to games and geek culture. I hope someone reads it, and perhaps word will get out that there is no shame in no longer being hardcore. The point of gaming is to, after all, have fun.